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Britons shocked by terror links

Suspects can be detained without trial (file picture)  

By CNN's Dylan Reynolds

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The United Kingdom has long been a haven for people fleeing other governments.

But the investigations that followed the September 11 attacks have thrown new light on the links that some individuals and groups based in the country may have to terror activities.

The revelations have alarmed the press, public and the government, which rushed through emergency legislation that would enable people to be detained without trial.

Steven Simon, assistant director and Carol Deane Senior Fellow of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN there were a number of reasons why the UK has been chosen as a base by terror suspects.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports two Algerian men appeared in a Leicester, England, court on charges of being members of the al Qaeda network (January 18)

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"The first thing is that there is a large immigrant population here into which these people can blend in.

"And not only is it a large immigrant population, there are many people within it who are not exactly happy with their lot here in Britain.

"Secondly, this is a very liberal society with a robust concern for civil liberties.

"This has made it difficult for law enforcement authorities to carry out the kind of surveillance and investigative activities that would enable them to find out exactly what is going on, and things have a chance to fester.

"Finally, some mosques -- a handful -- have served essentially as recruitment depots. In these mosques, the clerics have used inciteful language and really whipped up their congregations. Some young men do get seduced by it," Simon added.

In the aftermath of the attacks, British police revealed that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had made more than 200 requests for help as part of its hunt for those behind the September 11 attacks. They said about 24 names were being investigated.

The first high-profile arrest in the UK was that of Lotfi Raissi -- the Algerian pilot linked by authorities to one of the suspected September 11 hijackers.

Raissi was arrested at his London home on September 21 on a request from the FBI.

Prosecutors have linked Raissi to Hani Hanjour, the suspected pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon.

The U.S. has repeatedly indicated it will eventually file a "conspiracy to murder" charge against Raissi, and it has filed a request for his extradition.

Alleged shoe bomber

Richard Reid, who U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft referred to as "an al Qaeda-trained terrorist," has been indicted in the U.S. on charges related to his alleged attempt to set off a bomb in his shoe aboard an airliner.

Reid, 28, a British citizen of Jamaican heritage, has been charged with attempted murder, placing an explosives device on an airplane, attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and other charges.

Reid converted to Islam while in prison in the UK.

In December, Britain's prison service suspended a number of Muslim clerics for making inappropriate comments about the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Reid once attended the same South London mosque as Zacarias Moussaoui, the only suspected conspirator in the September 11 terror attacks who has been arrested and charged in that case, though officials there do not recall seeing them together.

Moussaoui, a French national who had lived in Britain, was arrested in the United States in August after he aroused suspicion by trying to buy time on a jumbo jet flight simulator.

The recent arrests follow a series of raids by police in London and Leicester
The recent arrests follow a series of raids by police in London and Leicester  

U.S. officials say they are also investigating the possibility that the two men trained in the same al Qaeda camp.

The UK Foreign Office is working to identify a British national who U.S. officials said was among 20 Afghan war detainees being held in Cuba.

And on Thursday, two men appeared in court in Leicester, central England, charged with being members of the al Qaeda terror network.

Leicestershire police, who arrested eight terror suspects in a series of raids, said one of the men was charged with directing Osama bin Laden's terrorist organisation.

The other man was charged with membership of al Qaeda, and both faced charges relating to the financing of terrorism.

In September, British authorities announced that Kamel Daoudi, who was arrested in Leicester under the country's anti-terrorism law, had been returned to France from Britain.

French media linked Daoudi with seven people arrested in France on September 21 with an alleged plot to attack American interests in France, including the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

"It is fair to say that in the past London and Britain as a whole have been seen as a convenient place to operate international support networks," said Paul Wilkinson, a terrorism expert at Scotland's St Andrews University.

"This is because of a reputation for tolerance and diversity and the fact that London has enormous access to international finance," he told Reuters.

But some Muslims fear that the current investigations could lead to less tolerance of religious diversity in the UK.

"In a few weeks these laws changed and now Britain is like any other Third World country where you can arrest anyone and keep them behind bars forever without charge," Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, told Reuters.

"The British are overdoing it and endangering the state of peace and security in this country, making Britain a target of future radicals.

"Every Muslim feels as if he or she is a target."


• Eight terror suspects arrested
December 19, 2001
• UK passes anti-terror law
December 14, 2001
• UK MPs vote for anti-terror bill
November 20, 2001
• Prodi calls for EU unity on terror
November 15, 2001

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